November 27, 1915
Page 13

American Pianist Returns from Prolonged Residence Abroad, First in Vienna and Later in Florence—Piano Recitals Not a Flourishing Institution in Italy

THE American pianist, Clarence Bird, has just returned to his native land after a prolonged residence abroad, and will be heard in New York and other cities during the season.
“I feel I must get acquainted with America,” said Mr. Bird in a recent conversation, “or I might say with New York and the East. I was born in Wisconsin and went to Europe when very young. I have lived a good part of my life on the other side.
“I studied a year with Heinrich Barth in Berlin, and then went to Vienna to Leschetizky. You can imagine the contrast I found between the two masters, the one so quiet, thorough, phlegmatic almost, the other so full of fire and flame, so spontaneous, so inspiring.
“Leschetizky was a wonderful teacher. He united in himself the characteristics of various nationalities. He had the German thoroughness and classic spirit, plus the life and fire of the Italians, the elegance and poetry of the Poles, for he was really a Pole. He knew how to adapt himself to people of each nationality, to each student, to bring out the best that is in him.
“Of course one had to undergo some preliminary training at the hands of a Vorbereiter, before going to the master for a lesson. One had to form the hand in a rounded position, with the finger joints firm, the wrist and arms supple and so on. There are various technical exercises written down, a couple of etudes from Czerny, Op. 74, a classical election and a modern piece to be studied. When these were learned, not before, could the student present himself for a lesson. The Schuett Romance is a good illustration of a modern piece in simple form, as it is such a contrast to the classical number. Schuett was a great friend of the master.
A Lesson with Leschetizky
“All lessons were private, though there were often listeners present. Leschetizky did not play your piece through for you, but illustrated passages at his piano. He expected you to go to his side and see just how he did it, ask questions and be alive to every point. Nothing exasperated him so much as silence or passivity. He talked to you on all subjects, the theater, the opera, facial expression of actors and so on. But everything he said was made to illustrate a point in the music. You would play a very little in the lesson, or you would play a great deal. He sometimes said, ‘You think you have had a good lesson because you have played much; one may learn more by listening attentively and not playing.’
“We spoke of persons gifted with so-called “natural technique.”
“I do not believe there is really such a thing as a natural technique,” said the pianist. 'A natural technique merely means a natural aptitude and ability to assimilate quickly technical forms. But I have found that those who acquire so easily do not play with the depth of feeling and sincerity of those who have to labor diligently for what they gain. I know that I have had to labor for what I have acquired.
“In regard to memorizing, Leschetizky, as you know, advises learning a bar at a time, or a phrase or two, away from the piano. I have not followed this plan, simply because, when I know the piece well enough to play it, I know it by heart. When I am sure it is memorized, there is no need to test the memory constantly by practising without notes. If I should do so, I might find, after a month, that I had unconsciously been playing the wrong note somewhere; therefore I generally place the notes before me, so as to be quite sure. I always take them with me when traveling; I cannot imagine an artist going on tour without his music. I often read over my pieces with the notes, away from the piano; one does not always need actually to play the notes when studying the piece.
The Fear of Forgetting
“The common fear of pianists is that they may forget when playing in public. The singer or violinist has an accompaniment to help him out, but the pianist is there on the platform, quite alone. It is fatal for him to wonder what is coming next, or anticipate difficulties. He has ear and hand memory to assist him. Having prepared himself thoroughly, he must go before the audience and just play, throwing fear to the winds.
“As to the relative advantages of music study in America or Europe, I suppose one goes to the teacher he selects, wherever that teacher may be. If Leschetizky had lived in America, I would probably not have gone to Vienna. There are plenty of splendid teachers now in America, and surely the best piano playing in the world is to be heard right here in New York.
“I am not making a specialty of modern compositions, because I do not find many that attract me that seem to me of great value. I love the old music, Mozart, Haydn and the other old classics. I fear, however, the public doesn’t care much for them. Do you think they would relish a Haydn sonata, not one of the brilliant ones, but one that is just simple, sweet and beautiful? There are some bagatelles of Beethoven that appeal to me; not only the seven of Op. 33, but later things. There is a set of eleven, Op. 119, and others, Op. 126. Some of these are charming and not familiar, for no one plays them. They prove that Beethoven when composing the great sonatas and works of his later period, still found time to write delightful, simple, naïve pieces.
Four Years in Florence
“I remained with Leschetizky four years and they were wonderful years. I worked very hard and went through everything that anyone could. Subsequently I went to Italy, and resided in Florence. The Italians do not seem to care greatly for piano music; piano recitals do not flourish there. I had heard so much piano music, however, that I was glad to study other phases. Italians live on the opera, and I heard a great deal of opera and many singers during my long sojourn there. Naturally this reacted beneficially on my piano studies. I taught a little, also, not Italians, but Americans, English, Russians or French.
“I have steeped myself in all the beauty and art of Italy for the last four years. Now I am here in my own land once more. I find New York wonderful!”
As Mr. Bird has played in many continental cities with pronounced success, we shall expect much from him this season.


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